With only 10 more days in the beautiful Kingdom of Tonga, I have begun to reflect on the things that I will miss as I return to Australia. Here are a few of the main ones:
1) The Palu family – Times spent with Ma’afu and Bessie have certainly been a highlight of my stay in Tonga. They have generously fed me each day and supplied me with various herbal tea concoctions. Their children are great fun, and Bate, their two-year old son, has taken a particular liking to singing with me. He can regularly be heard singing “Hallelujah, Hallelujah” or “Happy Day”. Most significantly, I will miss the times spent discussing the various things we have read in the Bible each day and praying together for the ministries we are involved in. Their support in prayer has sustained me through some difficult times here, and their insights into the Scriptures have taught me much about our loving, faithful and powerful God.
2) The best campus in the Pacific – USP Tonga has been dubbed the most beautiful campus in the Pacific region, and in many ways this is true. The campus director is a kind and approachable godly woman, overseeing a small but delightful campus. Ministry on this campus has been very, very, very different to ministry at Sydney University. But most of all I will miss the students that I have come to know this semester. I can still remember the very first morning that I cycled into the campus, and the table of students that made me feel so welcomed. I remember the many students who invited me to “Come and eat” with them. Some have grown in their faith this semester. Others have drawn back, and this has been sad to witness. It is hard to leave behind the group of young men that I have grown to love as I opened the Bible with them, but I trust that God loves them even more than I do and He will continue to look after them into the future.
3) Equippers church – Fellowship with this church every Sunday night has energized me to continue in the work that God has called me to, trusting that God is achieving His aims through me. Although one of the preachers has a tendency to shout a little too much for the comfort of my ears, the teaching has highlighted some different strands of the New Testament tapestry for me.
4) Sia’atoutai talavou – For most of my time here in Tonga, I have been living with some of the single young men at Sia’atoutai Theological College. Although sometimes they have kept me awake at hours when I really needed to be sleeping, and although they have subjected me to more second-hand smoke than in my entire life before Tonga, and although they have teased me for my support of the NSW Waratahs, some of these boys have become good friends. In these last days here, I look forward to spending more time with them playing a few more games of UNO, watching movies, and encouraging them to rely wholly on Jesus and surrender their lives completely to Him.
5) Food – Maybe it is just because I came here from Vanuatu, where the local food was sometimes hard to stomach, but I have loved the food here in Tonga. Particular favourites include the chicken (whether boiled, curried, barbecued, or fried), mei chips, fresh bread, and keke. I am still hoping to learn how to make keke so that I can continue to enjoy them when I return to Australia and share this joy with others.
6) Modest dress – It has been an amazing blessing to live for nine months in countries where modest dress is almost mandatory. I am thankful that I am at least coming back to Australia during winter when cold weather forces people to wear clothes.
7) Convenience – This has been a feature of both Vanuatu and Tonga. There are two particular features of life that contribute to this feeling of convenience. Firstly, virtually anywhere you find yourself on Tongatapu, you are within 10 minutes walk of a store (fale koloa) where you can buy various necessities like water, crackers, bread, soap, or ice cream. I find this so much nicer than having a supermarket or a shopping centre that you have to go to if you want to buy anything. Secondly, provided you’re not travelling into the bush too much, transport is so easy to find. Buses run regularly enough and are great fun. But even when there is no bus, it is easy enough to get a lift with someone driving past. The longest I have had to wait for a lift has been around 20 minutes, and that was on a Sunday when there are not many people driving.
I’m sure there are many more things that I will miss about life in the Pacific Islands that I will only realise when I return to life in Australia, but the most significant will be the people who God has brought into my life here. I trust these connections will not stop simply because I leave the country, but I look forward to a future of prayer and email connections with these brothers and sisters in Christ.